The Weekly Open Thread: What Is Authenticity

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Steve Haruch has a thought-provoking piece in this week's Scene: "Turning Japanese: White privilege, ethnic kabuki and old problems with the New Nashville."

In part, Haruch is responding to a Time magazine story about the New Nashville, in which John Meacham writes, "Culture is commerce." (As Scene contributor Betsy Phillips pointed out in a piece for Think Progress, all 24 people mentioned in the Time story are white.)

Here's an excerpt from Haruch's story:


The owners of Two Ten Jack, Patrick Burke of Seed Hospitality and chef Jason McConnell, are white. Executive chef Jessica Benefield is white. To be clear: I have no problem with white people making Japanese food, any more than I have a problem with Korean people making Japanese food (which happens more than many realize) or Mexican people making Korean food (as is common in my hometown of Chicago). Food is culture. It's transmittable. "Race," as comedian Hari Kondabolu reminded us during a recent Late Night With David Letterman appearance, "is a social construct." But as Nashville stays busy nextifying itself for a still-adoring national press corps, the question the city has not done a good job of reckoning with lately — never mind what parts of town are seeing this "revival," or what qualifies as such — is this: Whose "culture is commerce," and who gets to profit from it?

Speaking to the Scene, Burke described Two Ten Jack as an "unpretentious neighborhood gathering spot, with authentic cuisine." One could argue where a 12-dollar drink comprising Yamazaki 12-year single-malt Scotch, Pierre Ferrand Amber cognac, Benedictine, lemongrass, lemon, lime and Angostura bitters falls along the "unpretentious" spectrum, or to what degree chasing cocktail trends undermines the "authentic cuisine" claim further.

But more importantly, why would Burke feel entitled to use the word "authentic"? The menu is built on Japanese food, yes — and reverently so. But the concept is clearly a hybrid. The peak-artisanal mixology, the rugged heritage-style workwear for the staff, the Budapest Hotel-like meticulousness of mood — these are the trappings of "the New Nashville." And all for the good! But why call a studied and purposefully alloyed aesthetic "authentic"? Because you can?

Judging by the comment thread, Haruch has hit a major nerve: Some readers have taken issue with his story, while others wholeheartedly agree.

What do you think about food, culture, white privilege and the term "authenticity"? And what else is on your mind?

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